“Temples and High Places in Biblical Times” was the subject of Jerusalem colloquium held last spring to commemorate the centennial of the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. A distinguished group of archaeologists and Biblical scholars from all over the world—from as far away as Australia—gathered to deliver papers and offer comments.
Dr. Abraham Biran, Director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology set the tone in his opening address: “Where people worship is as important as how they worship,” he said.
One of the most provocative lectures was delivered by Professor Menahem Haran, Chairman of the Department of Bible of Hebrew University. Cult complexes such as shrines, sanctuaries and altars, whether Canaanite or Israelite, preceded the Jerusalem Temple which Solomon built, said Professor Haran. A sharp distinction must be made, he said, between a temple and an altar. A temple is a god’s house (the Jerusalem Temple is referred to in the Bible as the “House of God”). A temple is a building with a roof. It is equipped with furnishings reflecting and symbolizing the divine presence. An altar, on the other hand, is found only in the open. The altar served only for the ceremony of sacrifice.
A temple often had an altar which stood in an adjoining courtyard, but most altars were not attached to temples. Professor Haran observed.
Only priests could officiate in a temple, but any layman could serve an isolated altar. Moreover, certain types of sacrifices could be offered only at a temple altar.